Help me dumpster dive for my lost car keys!
March 26, 2007 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Two dumpsters of trash. One lost car key. Help me avoid spending $1,600.

Friday, I lost my car keys. Later, I made the horrifying discovery that restoring access to my humble vehicle will set me and my lovely and talented wife back (gulp) $1,600. (This is non-negotiable. Don't ask.)

I am 99% certain the keys fell from my hand while I was tossing a bag of trash into the bins behind my apartment building. Although those bins have since been emptied, they've not gone to the dump, but to two industrial-sized dumpsters in the basement of the adjoining condo unit.

Therefore, my (tightly-llinked) questions:

1. How best to search the dumpster for my keys? I was planning on laying a large tarp beside the bins and moving bags one-by-one onto the tarps from the dumpsters. Any better technique?

2. Is there any way of detecting or sensing the key? It is a fancy "transponder" key from a Saab 9-3 (thus the expense.)

3. Any other tips?

Thanks! Wish me luck, at least!
posted by docgonzo to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can we assume you contacted Saab customer service, and this is their response? How about contacting local dealers, and seeing if a manager will take pity on you and loan you a transponder?

Or perhaps some MeFite can personally refer you to a dealer in Vancouver, or to somebody in the Saab/GM hierarchy?

Or perhaps you can hire a neighbor's kid or two, offer them a small fortune (in their terms) to dumpster-dive, stipulating they're not to leave their new homes until they have the key.

Then disinfect the key.
posted by rob511 at 3:41 PM on March 26, 2007

What rob511 said, I'm not falling for this $1600 price tag.

There has to be a cheaper way.
posted by bitdamaged at 3:44 PM on March 26, 2007

Big powerful magnets?
posted by dantekgeek at 3:45 PM on March 26, 2007

I once dug through a dumpster with a friend to find a key ring (she insisted that the ring contained an irreplaceable object of great personal significance).

Wear latex gloves and clothes you don't care about. It isn't too bad, and it's certainly a lot better than paying $1600.

The shower you will take afterwards will quite possibly be the best shower you will ever have the pleasure of experiencing.
posted by Rictic at 3:46 PM on March 26, 2007

Response by poster: rob511: Yup, talked to Saab. They have to replace the entire computer transponder unit; they cannot reprogram the existing computer with new keys. (Which I think is, pardon my French, remarkeably assclownish design. Anyhoo.)

Oh, bitdamaged, that's what I said. (With a number of expletives added; what kind of sadist designs a car with $1,600 keys?)

I have been trolling through (recommended by a previous AskMe) to see if there is any way around it. There seem to be some ways around it -- problem is, this is a leased car. It's still GM's, legally. I'm not sure if that means we have to use them for service and service it as they demand.
posted by docgonzo at 3:51 PM on March 26, 2007

How best to search the dumpster for my keys?

Hiring a couple of students or bums would at least be cheaper than $1,600.
posted by kmennie at 3:59 PM on March 26, 2007

First of all, woah. I had pretty much the same situation last night, lost my keys with silly immobiliser transponder on, was told the cost would be more than my car was worth. I even considered asking mefi but thought the problem a bit obscure. The cheap alternative I discovered was to buy a full lock set and install that, as they usually come with the transpondered keys that are appropriate. The other option was to find a talented auto locksmith, some of them may have the equipment and tools to make a custom key that will work. Visit enthusiasts forums for your car, someone else has probably run across the same thing.

Secondly, don't stop looking. I found my key in the boot of the car, in the spare wheel well. How it got there is a mystery. Saved me £800 though.

Third, as a physicsy sort - I concur with the use of electromagnets to try and minimise exposure to stinky rubbish. Or a metal detector.
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 3:59 PM on March 26, 2007

Your first idea of going through the dumpster by hand, is probably the surest way. Make sure the trash company doesn't grab it first though, once it goes to the landfill, or transfer station, it's probably gone for good.
posted by Chessbum at 4:01 PM on March 26, 2007

My mom and I did this once at McDonalds to get my retainer, which cost about the same! As a little kid, I thought it was a blast. My mother, not so much.

We used big sheets of plastic, just like you're suggesting. We wore gloves. There were things in there that my mother said she wouldn't explain to me until I was an adult, and this was just a restaurant. Since this is residential trash, you'd better have a strong stomach and an open mind.

Finally, make sure you have the permission from the condo manager for this archaeological expedition. Good luck.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:20 PM on March 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Only hire help if you're sure you can trust the helpers. "I lost my key in the dumpster" sucks, but "I lost my key in the dumpster, and then had my car stolen by the people I paid 40$ to trash-dive for me" sucks worse.

If you're getting in there with the bags, wear clothes that you can tuck-in wherever possible.

If there's rats, bring lots of light and make a godawful amount of noise.

Make the best of it, and pretend you're in Law & Order or CSI.
posted by CKmtl at 4:22 PM on March 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

You might find this article from Wired* an interesting read after you've found the key. Some pertinent bits: I suspect Saab uses a changing code in the transponder. Basically, each time you use your key your car says to it "Next time we use this random code, OK?" and your key remembers that code for the next time, which would be why they can't find the code (it's theoretically only known to your car and the key). Also, the transponders are generally really weak (~7 inches of range) so there probably isn't a good way to locate the transponder specifically.

*If anyone is keeping track, yes I read too much Wired. I admit I have a problem. Now stop counting!
posted by anaelith at 4:26 PM on March 26, 2007

Judging from your description, the keys are presumably not inside any of the bags, but would be floating around loose in the dumpsters. Unless there's some kind of bags-within-bags arrangement where all the trash from your bins is bagged up before going in the dumpster. But maybe the situation is that you'll be able to set all the bags aside and just look in the bottom of the dumpster?
posted by nowonmai at 4:36 PM on March 26, 2007

I'd seriously hire a couple dudes off the street. They could buy a lot of Mad Dog for $50 each. You may have moral problems with this though.

On another note, is this really how ridiculously complicated and over engineered cars have become these days?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 4:39 PM on March 26, 2007

Two things. First, this article seems to say that it should cost $200 to replace such a key, not $1600. That's completely fucking insane, and if they really try to charge you that much, you should make all kinds of online posts trashing Saab and contact some local TV/radio help-you-out consumer personality. That's extortion, pure and simple.

Second, if you go dumpster diving, try to take out all the bags first, as the key has probably not found its way into a bag. Don't start by ripping bags open. That's for if you don't find them at the bottom of the dumpster/in between some bags.
posted by Dasein at 4:59 PM on March 26, 2007

Those keys are huge and I lose mine in my purse all the time. I wouldn't trust a random kid to dive for it without a pretty big end result bonus- black trash bags, matte black key transponder - bad combo.

Can you use your spare until you finish the lease and hope they don't cause a fuss about it 'cuz they want to lease you another Saab?

I don't know how metal detectors work, but there is an actual key inside the fob in case your battery dies and the clicker won't work. If it is made of some metal that the detector can sense and the dumpster doesn't have a lot of that same metal, it might work.
posted by blackkar at 5:06 PM on March 26, 2007

I am 99% certain the keys fell from my hand while I was tossing a bag of trash into the bins behind my apartment building.

This means two things.

1. Your keys could very well be in the dank bottom of the original dumpster.

2. The most effective way to find your keys in the new dumpster is easy: simply remove every bag and shake it (to see if the keys are stuck to it). If the keys don't come out with a bag, they will end up at the bottom of the now-emptied dumpster, or around it, making searching through bags of unholy mess unnecessary.

Emptying the entire dumpster might seem like a big task, but it won't take long. The best thing about that is that you can subsequently scan each bag with a handheld metal detector. You can almost certainly buy one locally at a safety supply store, or rent one at a tool rental shop.
posted by fake at 5:26 PM on March 26, 2007

If it comes to tackling the dumpster, get yourself some leather work gloves to wear over the rubber gloves, a dust mask, some sturdy boots, and a magnet on a stick. If you are paying people to help, offer a bonus if they actually find the keys.
posted by yohko at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2007

My friend, former Toyota dealer employee, says:

"Toyotas have this problem, too. If you lose both master keys, you can't program any more. The only way to get more is to get a new ECU.

"A cheaper way for this guy to do it is to get a master key and ECU from a junkyard, put the ECU in the car and program new keys that are cut to his locks using the code in the junkyard key."
posted by autojack at 6:07 PM on March 26, 2007

Also, it seems you can get replacement keys made more cheaply from an existing key. You don't even have ONE transponder key to this car? Didn't they give you two?
posted by autojack at 6:09 PM on March 26, 2007

I'd seriously hire a couple dudes off the street. They could buy a lot of Mad Dog for $50 each. You may have moral problems with this though.

If you offered $200, bums would be fist-fighting each other in the street for the opportunity to find your key.
posted by jayder at 6:28 PM on March 26, 2007

Metal detector almost worthless, as it is unlikely many bags would NOT have any metal.

My sympathy. I'm so happy keys were still low-tech when I was young.
posted by Goofyy at 4:27 AM on March 27, 2007

Nothing to add, just sorry to hear this happened to you. Please update.
posted by orangemiles at 6:55 AM on March 27, 2007

Offer two students $50 dollars each for a minimum of five hours work, and a $100 bonus each if they find them.
posted by UncleHornHead at 1:09 PM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: RESULT.

Thank you for all your advice and good wishes. This afternoon I waded into the first dumpster, pulled out three-point-four metric buttloads of stewing trash -- and learning too much about my neighbours' food preferences and minor skin ailments -- and found nada. Zip.

Did the same for the second and halfway through -- oh happy happy day -- saw the keys twinkling sweetly in the remnants of a finished tin of Fancy Feast.
posted by docgonzo at 4:24 PM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am now off to take a long, hot shower.
posted by docgonzo at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2007

Sure, they tell their corporate masters that it will be profitable, but the sadists who design keys this way are really doing it for the twisted thrill they get from reading stories like this.
posted by Chuckles at 7:40 PM on March 27, 2007

Careful with those Fancy Feast covered keys-- you wouldn't want hungry Fluffy to lick them and get poisoned...
posted by orangemiles at 9:59 AM on March 28, 2007

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